This Week in Anime
Presenting Osamu Dazai and The Taints

by Michelle Liu & Nick Dupree,

Famous literary authors travel into their most famous works to correct wanton corruption at the hands of The Taint. This mobage adaptation premiered last month before swiftly being caught in the mountain-size pile of anime hiatuses. Does this version of Osamu Dazai and Friends bring anything new to the Bungo table?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @Liuwdere @A_Tasty_Sub @vestenet


Nick
Micchy, we really need to start classing it up at TWIA. These past few weeks we've been covering pedestrian stuff like kids shows or light novel adaptations, but it's our responsibility as Anime Professionals to show the art form is just as meaningful and respectable a medium as any other. And what better way than to cover a show steeped in classic, mature literary influence?

Hehe, he said taint.
Micchy
For a show that plays so loose with Japanese literature when translating its material from page to screen, it's really quite impressive that the most baffling translational choice is in the localization. Like I'm sorry, I will never not laugh when Hot Anime Boy Osamu Dazai starts talking about "Taints" like it's the most serious business on earth.
That really is the deciding factor on whether or not somebody's going to enjoy Bungo and Alchemist -Gears of Judgement- at all. Regardless of your feelings on pretty boy gacha games or knowledge of 20th century Japanese literature, the only way you're gonna get anything out of this show is if you can read lines like this without giggling.
Okay, but I'm kind of enjoying this ride through High School Lit's Greatest Hits: The Animation despite the urge to make a dirty joke every other line. But then again, I'm also a dweeb who bought a third copy of No Longer Human for the pure novelty of Hot Anime Boy Osamu Dazai (the other one) on the cover, so maybe I'm not the best judge of how accessible this show is for everyone else. If my experience in high school literature is anything to go by, reading sex jokes into classic lit is the first thing you're supposed to do upon starting an assignment anyway.
On the other hand I'm not much of a classic lit guy. Frankly the only reason I recognize any name in this show is that I watched the Aoi Bungaku anime years ago and they adapted both of the stories that Bunghole & The Taints has covered so far.
And it's not surprising that both this and Aoi Bungaku went for these stories in particular! They're now celebrated as the best of their respective authors' oeuvres - and they're short enough that every Japanese kid probably read it in high school. Frankly, "cute anime boy authors go into their most well-known stories to fix them from supernatural plot retcons" kind of feels like a premise a bored high school kid would come up with to spice up their literature assignments.
I'll take your word for it because outside of that single touchstone I have 0 reference for this show's particular brand of nerdiness. Like I can spot 90% of the million music references in Listeners but it turns out 3 1/3 episodes of Bungo Stray Dogs isn't enough research for me to recognize any of these presumably very respectable authors as anime boys.

That said, I do understand Gacha game mechanics and Bungo & Alchemist is one of the most bald-faced adaptations of a mobile game I've ever seen. They even have that crystal from Granblue Fantasy everyone hates!
What, you're not a fan of the nearly nonexistent stakes and endless parade of pretty boys with one (1) personality trait each? Huh, never would have thought.
It's still not the worst or most barebones mobage anime I've seen, but from the moment the first episode drops Dazai in a closed off library dimension with a glowing crystal that exposits through a talking cat, it becomes obvious this is just the hub world in Arknights but with book boys instead of fox girls.
A talking cat that may or may not be the reincarnation of Natsume Soseki, mind you. But yeah, this show is very much designed around showing off cute boys who do things. It doesn't completely neglect the storytelling, but its priorities are pretty clear. Though it almost feels like cheating to say its storytelling is good considering most of the legwork was done 70-80 years ago.
That's definitely the foothold I've found to stick with the show. Gamified plot mechanics aside, there's an inherent intrigue to the setup of trying to preserve works of art from being tampered with. Even if I'm not familiar with the stories or creators in question I can appreciate a show trying to analyze and interpret the stories in question.
The general sentiment I agree with. I do really like how Dazai explicitly refutes the claim that his work is separate from him as a person. Art is human, and to erase someone's art completely is akin to dismissing a part of their being. Bungo and Alchemist recognizes the value of literature as self-expression, and I gotta appreciate that.
I do wish it could delve (ha!) a little deeper into all that though. There's a ton of interesting ideas layered throughout these stories and the history of their creators, but so far that hasn't gotten much deeper than "x story was about y emotion" or the like.
Yeah, that's where it struggles. The stories in question are pretty thematically dense, but Bungo and Alchemist doesn't really capture that complexity. Its readings are very much "college freshman in a required seminar" - not wholly misinterpretations, but definitely rather surface-level. Like y'all, you don't get much credit for figuring out Cherries in Full Bloom is about loneliness when it straight-up says so in the text.
I get that's probably part of the appeal. Most people playing this game or watching this show are gonna be lit nerds who might bristle at a more distinct dissection of the subject matter. So instead Bungo fills the space with Anime Bullshit. Like hell yeah give bishonen Dazai a scythe, why not?
If I'm to be uncharitable, it feels like Bungo and Alchemist wants to pat the nerds on the back for catching a reference or two without engaging with the works in an interesting way. I'm not expecting full-on criticism, but I kinda want more than the thematically diluted versions of the stories the show settles for. Even the delvers' goals seem shallow to me - they want to protect the integrity of the original stories' plots but don't really address what else makes them so enduring. Literature is about more than what happens, dammit!
And that's a shame because even in these truncated versions there's a lot of interesting themes to dig into. Cherry Blossoms gets more focus as a full 2-parter, and I left it actually feeling curious about its legacy and historical context. So I guess points for this show trying to make me less of an uncultured swine. But as-is these ideas are presented (I presume) like they appear in the original work and then never lingered on.
In the original work there's a bunch of ideas at play regarding class, gender, the urban/rural divide, and playing doll with the skulls of people you don't like, but it doesn't really come through here. If I'm to really nitpick, the conclusion is also tonally off. But in the interest of not boring everyone with my grievances, I'd recommend just picking up Jay Rubin's translation of it in the Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories.
I'll have to check that out at some point. For now though this does still stand as the better version of the story I've seen, because even with all the mobage shenanigans going on I understood more of it than when they let Tetsuro Araki adapt it.
Don't even remind me of that horrid Edo-period flip phone slapstick, I beg you. I barely remember the thing and I still hate it.
Oh if we're talking about slapstick can I ask what the hell is up with every anime version of Dazai revolving around suicide jokes? Like yeesh.
Yeah, there's the other big qualm I have with this show. These writers were famously complicated people, so reducing them to a handful of cartoon personality traits is kind of uncomfortable to me. Joking about Dazai's many suicide attempts is particularly tasteless imo. Like the dude's last published work was essentially a semi-autobiographical suicide note about a lifetime of depression, can we not turn it into a running gag?
I mean when Fate pulls this stuff they usually have the tact to reserve it for long-dead or fictional people. But pretty much every real-world person in this show existed within living memory so it's 800% more awk. Actually it occurs to me how fucking surreal it must be if one of these author's great-grandchildren see this. Like hey here's a fucky anime boy version of your direct ancestor! Is that how WWII navy veterans feel watching Azur Lane?
Probably like a more intense version of Hetalia? I'm actually not sure how many of these guys had kids though.
Fair. I guess my point is that the weird intersection of anime marketing and real-world people gets weirder the more I think about it. Which is probably why the show doesn't encourage it. Like hey, no, these aren't ACTUALLY the authors. They're just uh, spirit clones made from memories. Or something. Please don't let anyone's estate sue us, thanks.
"Just because you're correct doesn't mean you're right!"

Speaking of Dazai though, I'm also salty about how this show totally skips the real end of Run, Melos. The first line of the story ("Melos was enraged") is iconic, but imo the best part in it is at the very end when Selinuntius basically says to Melos "hey dude your dick's out."
Well they couldn't have a dick with all this taint hanging around.
We must settle for a platonic, fully-clothed bro hug.
Yeah the one thing I still recall from Ryosuke Nakamura's adaptation of Run, Melos! was the lingering feeling that it was intensely homoerotic. I have no idea if that's part of the source material or just Nakamura's eternally thirsty shot composition, but I feel like this show of all properties could lean into that angle more than it has.
You'd think! I can only assume that if anything, we're to root for the Akutagawa/Dazai duo. So, uh, prematurely-deceased literary icon and his admirer/suicide copycat. Yeah, I'm gonna try not to dwell on this too long.
Well Amnesia Akutagawa is gonna have competition from Dazai's old drinking buddy now that the cat finally pulled his SSR or whatever. So maybe we can look forward to some love triangle pablum going forward. Like you said don't think about it too hard.

I think that's the lesson to take from Bungo & Alchemist. It's not terrible or even unpleasant to watch, but its premise is paper thin and you need to suspend your disbelief 50 stories in the air to go along with it.
Or you can watch it for the talking cat.
A pussy fit to give the Taints the lickin' they deserve, for sure.

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